The death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden inspired a wave of patriotism at Binghamton University early Monday morning, as a small group of elated students grew to a crowd of several hundred that paraded around campus waving flags, orating through megaphones, sharing champagne and launching fireworks.
Hundreds of voices chanting “U-S-A,” “fuck Osama” and singing “The Star Spangled Banner” in central campus could be heard hundreds of yards away, as far away as Appalachian Dining Hall in Mountainview College.
The rally began around midnight on Monday, following the announcement by President Barack Obama that United States forces killed bin Laden in his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
Obama announced at 11:35 p.m. Sunday that bin Laden had been killed, and that the U.S. operation that led to his death was the culmination of months of intelligence work. Obama ordered the operation earlier that day, he said. He added that no Americans were harmed.
At BU, the student rally lasted for several hours before concluding at around 3 a.m. Monday.
Chris Formisano, a junior majoring in political science and a resident assistant in Dickinson College’s Rafuse Hall, was among the first to bring the celebration to the streets.
“I was like, ‘no way,'” Formisano said. He said he was in “complete disbelief” when he heard the news that bin Laden had been killed in Pakistan by U.S. forces.
Zach Bilder, a freshman majoring in biology who lives on Formisano’s floor in Rafuse, was also involved in the initial revelries. Bilder, who took credit for starting the rally, described his feelings as “fucking awesome.”
There were also reports of a group of students that started a concurrent rally in College-in-the-Woods and that the two came together soon after.
As the students paused by the south entrance to Lecture Hall around midnight, Bilder spoke to the crowd, which by then had already grown to at least a hundred people.
Speaking through a megaphone, he urged the crowd “to celebrate the historical night” and led them in singing the national anthem.
Binghamton’s New York State University Police met the rally procession at Newing College’s Bingham Hall, though officers remained in their vehicle, observing the festivities.
“We’re just making sure everything is peaceful, and nothing’s being broken,” said an officer, who declined to be identified. “They’re [the marchers] not doing anything wrong. Some people won’t like this noise, but oh well.”
Several Muslim students of varied nationalities spoke of their shared joy at bin Laden’s demise and said they felt welcomed by their fellow students.
“As a Muslim in America, I grew up being called a terrorist. But tonight was great, I felt that people were accepting who I am,” said Farwah Sheikh, a junior majoring in psychology. “What Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida did to people in Afghanistan and Iraq makes them [al-Qaida] not real Muslims.”
By 2:30 a.m., what had begun as a spontaneous celebration had become increasingly more organized.
By then, members of political student groups handed out American flags supplied by the College Republicans. The group had 3,000 flags in stock from their Sept. 11 memorial garden, an annual event in which they plant flags in the ground along Lois B. DeFleur Walkway in collaboration with the Binghamton Review. They distributed about 150 flags.
Aaron Ricks, the editor in chief-elect of the Binghamton Review, said the flags were apt symbols for the occasion.
“It was fitting that every flag that people were waving represented a soul that died,” he said.
Referring to the occasion as a “day of justice,” Ricks said this marked a time in which people would begin “being proud of being an American again.”
But he qualified that statement with a degree of caution.
“It probably doesn’t change much, but it’s closure,” he said, adding that there are “still a lot of problems left in the world.”
Still, he said, it’s “one less evil man alive.”
Tom Fuchs, a sophomore majoring in integrative neuroscience, followed the crowd for more than an hour with a megaphone of his own trying to dissuade students from participating.
“Patriotism can be beautiful; patriotism as a result of revenge is terrifying,” he said. “I’m afraid that behavior like this falls into cycles of history.”
Emilia Ronquillo, a sophomore majoring in biology, was also leery of the outpouring of nationalism, which “might be a little over the top,” she said.
“This looks like we just gained independence,” Ronquillo added. “I don’t think they realize that al-Qaida’s still out there.”
The rally concluded in a courtyard in CIW around 3 a.m., where students set off fireworks and gathered for final remarks led by student government leaders, including Randal Meyer and Nick Valiando.
However the most common word students used to describe the night, which was reiterated by dozens, was “awesome.”
“I’m feeling awesome,” said Traci Rubin, an undeclared freshman who gave an impromptu speech and called for a moment of silence when the rally reached the Dickinson Amphitheater.
“Justice has been served,” she said.
She said she never thought the U.S. would capture or kill bin Laden. She also took stock of the evening and commented on how the night would hold a permanent spot in her memory.
“I’m going to know exactly what I was doing, just like in 2001,” she said, referring to the Sept. 11 attacks. “I’m never going to forget it.”
Ethan Feilich, an undeclared freshman, also said he was “feeling awesome.”
Feilich, who is a member of the Alpha squad of Humans vs. Zombies, was carrying a Nerf gun. He compared the U.S. military’s killing of bin Laden to the destruction of the Death Star at the end of the Star Wars films.
– Brian Racow contributed to this report.